Eco-tip: Fighting planned obsolescence with extended warranties, right to repair
By David Goldstein
Special to Ventura County Star
Are extended warranties worth the cost? For cars, the question becomes complicated by a wide variety of options, prices and incentives. For other items, such as appliances and cell phones, the choices are simpler.
Some people need extended warranties as insurance. Nearly 40% of Americans could not cover a $400 emergency expense with cash or with a credit card charge they could pay off on their next statement, according to the Federal Reserve Board’s “Report on Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2020.”
For consumers who have to choose between living without a refrigerator or adding to their monthly interest payments, an extended warranty can be crucial, even if the added cost of the warranty delays a purchase.
For others, buying an extended warranty can be a good bargain.
“Like a dentist or a doctor in an HMO, we charge a lot less for warranty work than we do to fix items from some guy just calling us without a policy,” said Dean Stoli, the customer service representative for My Appliance Service, a major San Fernando Valley repair center that fixes appliances in homes throughout Ventura County.
Manufacturers factor this discount into the cost of a good extended warranty. They anticipate the average cost for the average person to repair an appliance during the warranty period and generally charge enough to cover costs. Since the manufacturer’s costs are lower than what the cost would be for a consumer without a warranty, the warranty is, on average, a good deal, Stoli said.
For consumers without warranties, it sometimes makes more sense to work with local repair shops, even if those shops are not authorized by manufacturers. However, not all manufacturers make it easy to work with unauthorized repair shops.
William Shifflet, the 28-year-old owner of Gizmo Wizard in Oak View, said some companies whose devices he services seem intent on putting him out of business.
“With every new generation of iPhone, there are more booby traps, so you can end up damaging a phone if you are not an expert,” Shifflet said. In contrast, he said replacement parts for HP computers “are easy to buy and HP is easy to work with.”
Consumers are fighting back against manufacturers that put non-durable parts in new products or discontinue making spare parts for repairs.
A Change.org petition to the House Energy and Commerce Committee calls for a ban on printer cartridges made to be disposed, rather than remanufactured.
“What once was a thriving circular economy for recycling and re-manufacturing used printer cartridges” in the early 2000s, the petition states, has since “been destroyed and is currently on the verge of extinction… due to the import of cheap, non-reusable replacements.”
A related consumer movement fights to preserve options for do-it-yourself repairs. In a victory for these advocates last year, the Federal Trade Commission voted unanimously to enforce what advocates call “Right to Repair” laws. Inspiring the vote, an FTC report called “Nixing the Fix” accused some manufacturers of violating the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act by making false statements, such as “opening this device voids warranties.”
Consumers making the case to the FTC were organized by the non-profit U.S. PIRG, a consumer advocacy group, and funded in part by companies like iFixit of San Luis Obispo, which sells repair kits and manuals. Right to Repair advocates argue consumers deserve access to tools, parts, documentation and software needed to make repairs.
Besides saving consumers money, repair conserves resources otherwise needed to make new products. Repair can benefit the domestic economy, using local labor to restore used items instead of sending money overseas to buy internationally produced goods.
David Goldstein, an environmental resource analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at (805) 658-4312 or firstname.lastname@example.org